Compassion is the consciousness of others’ distress coupled with a desire to help. Compassion means a person has the capacity for sharing the painful feelings and circumstances of another and is willing to try to bring relief to them. What are the obstacles that keep people from being more compassionate? In a word, it is selfishness. A word that is being used more and more today is narcissism. It is selfishness on steroids. Narcissists crave admiration and live their lives to get it. Since they have an inflated view of their importance, they usually talk way too much. They believe that people want to hear what they have to say, but ironically they are not too interested in what others have to say. They love to criticize others but have little ability to take any criticism. They find it incredibly difficult to empathize with anyone’s distress and have little desire to help or show compassion. Regrettably, this describes many in our world today.
If we have experienced God’s love and compassion, then we will be willing to show compassion to others. Jeremiah described God’s compassion this way: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23). He spoke these words while being moved by the pain and suffering of others.
Dr. Karl Menninger in his book The Vital Balance writes about troubled people who are never happy. They are bitter, apprehensive, and insecure and often see no point in life. They are petty people who rarely ever have compassion for anyone. They have difficulty seeing life beyond their own needs.
Menninger illustrates this with a story about Thomas Jefferson, who was traveling by horse cross country with a group of companions. When they came to a swollen river, a wayfarer saw the group and waited for several members to pass, then asked President Jefferson if he would carry him across on his horse. Jefferson complied and pulled the man up and carried him across the river. “Tell me,” asked one of the men, “why did you choose the president to ask this favor of?” “The president?” the man answered. “I didn’t know he was the president. All I know is that on some of the faces is written the answer ‘no’ and on other faces is written the answer ‘yes.’ His was a ‘yes’ face.”
I remember when we were in language school in Costa Rica we had to leave our son Eric at daycare when he was only about two. On his first day, he cried his eyes out. The second day we took him, we were expecting the same scene. However, to our surprise when we reached the gate, he looked around and spotted one person he was looking for and took off. I stood there for a moment and watched as parents brought their children and most of the kids were running to the same person. She was a plump little lady who was hugging and squeezing the kids.
What was it that made the kids run to her? I noticed other workers all by themselves with no kids running to them. Over the course of the year, it wasn’t hard to figure out why the kids took to this lady. She had something to give. She had a certain grace about her that made it so easy to connect to every child in the daycare. She had a yes face, and that face was attractive to little kids.
We all look for those yes faces. They are the people who have this capacity to see other people’s hurts and have compassion for them. We are drawn to them. People are not accustomed to seeing kind yes faces who are compassionate. In fact, it surprises them. What an opportunity we have to live life with a yes attitude and show the compassion of Christ to a hurting world.